I was pretty bummed when BioWare announced that they were pushing back the release date of Dragon Age: Inquisition in order to polish the final product. Despite these setback, they’re continuing to build momentum for the game with a new trailer. Watch it below!
You’ll notice that at the 1:34 mark a familiar face shows up in the trailer: Marian Hawke. Hawke was the protagonist from Dragon Age 2 (which we dissect in depth in this podcast) but she was available as a male or female character in the game. I obviously played with Marian Hawk (I don’t even know the name of dude Hawke) and it’s exciting to see BioWare supporting her as the canon version of Hawke.
For anyone who thinks “well, that looks like Hawke, but it could be someone else” just stoppit. It’s Hawke. Mike Laidlaw, the director of the Dragon Age series, took to twitter to confirm it.
1) That is Hawke.
2) That is -not- "The" warden. (As in, yours from DAO)
— Mike Laidlaw (@Mike_Laidlaw) August 13, 2014
So there you have it, it is Hawke and she is fantastic.
Also, no word yet on who that sexy guy next to her is, but if this Hawke bears any resemblance to my own Hawke, she’s probably already slept with him.
There are few things I enjoy more than school, which is why around this time of the year I start getting giddy about school supplies. With the zeitgeist of MOOCs (massively open online courses) websites like Canvas and Coursera offer a platform for universities to open classes to the public. Last summer, I took the Gender Through Comics course offered from Ball State University (with the wonderful Christina Blanch as engaging professor), and I think I’ve found a course to rival that: Understanding Video Games from the University of Alberta.
Taught by Leah Hackman and and Sean Gouglas, the eleven lesson course aims to tackle complicated subjects like play game mechanics, story, interpretive theory, the culture of games, violence, sex and race in games, and finally, serious games. The ultimate goal of the course, is to provide learners with a vocabulary to construct theoretical frameworks surrounding the medium of video games.
Many familiar with the gaming world have dubbed the medium to be suffering through adolescence, listing many ways the industry could move forward and mature. This course offers one way for the medium to develop more deeply, helping gans are industry professionals a base vocabulary with which to understand and express critiques of gaming.
All the academic parts aside, the course was developed with the help of Edmonton-based video game developer BioWare. You know, the company that makes all my favorite games. It’s still unclear how that partnership will work for the course itself, but I’m desperately hoping for interviews and exclusive insights into some games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age (Although if you’re dying for some Dragon Age discussion you can check out our recent podcast).
You can sign up for the course for free via Coursera. If you decide to join the class, let me know! I’ll be more than happy to let you borrow my notes if you ever need to skip.
Sharing is a core concept in our marriage that has been extremely necessary in resolving some of the problems that arise with two gamers in a household. Since husband and I are both fairly relaxed about gaming, being willing to share resolves the majority of our problems. We’re willing to share TV time, take turns with games we both want to play, and we’re particularly understanding of each other when each of us receives a new game. That said, one of few things we haven’t struck a balance with is sharing time and attention with each other – which all came to a head last week during the Google Maps Pokemon challenge.
Problem: Google Maps Pokemon Challenge
On March 31, Google announced that you could catch Pokemon using the Google Maps app on Smartphones and tablets. Needless to say, I was fucking psyched. I got wind of this information about thirty minutes after my husband came home from work, and by the time he got home he found me deep in my Pokemon catching journey. It’s not the first time he’s dealt with my Pokemon obsession, but the time restraints (only 48 hours) on the Google Maps challenge added an intensity to my fervor that was unusual even for me. I clearly didn’t read the disclaimer.
I managed a quick hello when he poked his head into my office, and even moved my operation into the living room so it would appear as if we were hanging out, but I was completely focused on becoming a Pokemon master. This was my chance to finally capture all 150 in a single game! I was going to catch ’em all, even if it meant losing sleep and sanity. I basically ignored my husband for the few hours he was home before bedtime, even as he put background noise on for me, and cooked me dinner. At the time, I knew I was being a bit of a brat, but I also figured that I could be a brat just this once.
Unfortunately the next day, April Fools itself, I realized that I had missed one Pokemon in my hunt the night before. I had not caught Mew, and I proceeded to hunt the elusive critter down on and off all day between work assignments. No matter how long I searched for Mew, or how many reddit threads I read, I still never got to this screen:
By the time Husband got home, I was completely distraught over my lack of Mew. One of my friends from graduate school had found Mew in 30 minutes, what was wrong with me? I shared some of these feelings with my husband (let’s be honest, I was pretty histrionic) and finally annoyed him to the point of exclaiming “IT’S JUST A GAME. WHO CARES”. For those of you who have met my husband, you know what an accomplishment it is to get him to raise his voice.
Solution: Snap Out of It
At that moment, I finally popped out of my Pokemon Playing Bubble. Sort of. Let’s be honest, I was still completely beside myself over Mew. However, the rational part of my brain kicked in enough for me to realize that my obsession with Mew was not worth upsetting my husband over.
I stopped my search for Mew that night, despite the fact that I still had 5-8 hours left to find the mythical creature, and despite the fact that I have never owned a Mew in my life, and this was my best/easiest chance to catch one. A tiny image of a cute felinesque furball is not worth alienating my husband for any reason. By the end of the night, I managed to have him smiling again as I sang “Everything is Awesome” on repeat.
I’m not going to lie, as someone who is prone to playing video games for 6-10 hours stretches, this problem is going to re-surface again in the future. I may disappear from the world when Dragon Age: Inquisition releases, and dont’ even get me started on Kingdom Hearts 3. But when my full brain is firing, my relationship comes before gaming. I just have to continue considering myself lucky to be with someone who understands my obsessions…most of the time.
In their attempt to keep up with Apple’s Siri and Google Now, Microsoft recently announced their own virtual assistant: Cortana. Now, I’m going to assume for a second that if you’re reading this blog you know that Cortana is a major character of the Halo series, regardless of whether you’ve ever played the games before. Her story arc and character design are fascinating and problematic, and one of the few reasons that I own all of the Halo games.
The news that Microsoft is naming their virtual assistant after this complex dame speaks to larger gender roles in America. As Matt Peckham pointed out in his Time’s article of the event,
What about this idea that the personality — and both Apple and Microsoft clearly want us to view Siri and Cortana as personalities — is female and not male, responsible for what amount to secretarial duties like creating alarms, reminders and appointments? …If so, what does that say about us?”
To be 100% fair, Siri does have a male voice that users are able to use if they so desire. At this point, however, it does not appear that Cortana will be able to make that change. There is some science behind this, Clifford Nass of Standford University has gone on record saying that “”A male voice is seen as a better teacher of technology and a female voice is better for everything else.” There is also speculation that a preference for female voices begins in the womb, as a mother’s voice is the first voice a baby will tune to.
That said, the reasons why people in a culture tend to prefer a certain gender to voice something is based on cultural attitudes towards gender. We may think of women’s voices as soothing because we see them as motherly, feminine figures while our manly stereotypes still involve gruff anti-heroes. Thinking about it, I really wouldn’t mind if say, John Wayne or Chris Hemsworth spoke to me through my phone. Or you know, if Val Kilmer said “I’m your huckleberry” every time I unlocked it. Clearly I’m on a western kick.
Sexy male voices aside, the fact that both Apple and Microsoft assume that users prefer a female voice speaks volumes to cultural attitudes in America. In 2013, statistics demonstrated that a gender wage gap still persists, with women earn roughly 77 cents on the dollar when stacked against the paychecks of white men. Could attitudes about women being best as secretaties and organizational tasks have any influence on this?
It’s an interesting question, and one with many more factors than just the default female voice on your smart phone. While there may be many Halo fanboys that welcome a chance to have their very own Cortana, she deserves better. Cortana didn’t give her life in Halo 4 just to be reincarnated as your personal secretary. Plus, do you really want your virtual assistant created in Cortana’s image?
When I woke up this morning, I never though I’d see anything as fantastic as this:
Yes, you are looking at a Garrus Vakarian Body Pillow. This is available via the Bioware Store, and since you can both add it to your cart and check out (trust me, I’ve tried this) I’m assuming this might be a real thing. Maybe the product started out as an April Fool’s joke, but I”m hoping that enough fans show their support that maybe we get body pillows of Kaiden, Tali, and Thane (my various Mass Effect romances).
Since Garrus has always been the primary love of my Commander Shephard’s life, I am now excited to bring him to mine. First I’ll have to see how my husband feels about it sharing a bed with a Turian…
There were several impassioned calls from GDC to diversify the gaming world. As many in the industry know, the problem isn’t just with the depiction of characters in video games. Lack of diversity is a systemic problem in the gaming community, and there were e panels created to address the gender imbalance in the gaming workforce.
A favorite from last year, the #1ReasonToBe GDC panel is a stand-out among the advocacy track panels (You can watch the 2013 panel here). Like the “How to Subversively Queer Your Work” panel, the panelists (all AMAZING women) offered multiple options for how to solve the problem of diversity (lack of) in the gaming world. A major theme of the #1ReasonToBe panel was fitting in and being human. Lauren Scott (UC Santa Cruz game design student) Deirdra “Squinky” Kiai (creator of Dominique Pamplemousse) offered personal stories that speak loudly when contrasted.
“At five years years old, I knew a black girl could be a character in games.”
Lauren Scott is one of those strange creatures who has never felt left out, “I’ve always felt like I was a part of gaming, because the people who raised me always made sure I felt welcome in play.” Her father reinforced this line of thinking by making Scott the main character in a Java game which led Scott’s realization that “At five years years old, I knew a black girl could be a character in games.” With a little sister as a constant Player 2, Scott though that video games were made specifically for black women until she started school.
Kiai’s experience in gaming was a 180 degree turn around from Scott’s story. Despite the fact that they (Kiai prefers the gender-neutral “they” as a pronoun and will receive that courtesy for the remainder of this article) created a game at 16 years old, they still felt like, “Games were never meant for people like me. They were always someone else’s story. I couldn’t make games about myself because I didn’t even know who I was. I never saw myself represented anywhere.”
“Making games is easy. Belonging is hard.”
My heart breaks every time I read that statement, which is repeated throughout Kiai’s speech (You can read Kiai’s full speech here). Her response to this exclusion was to make games. Games that embodied their experience with being excluded, games that embodied their experience with fighting for an identity, and games that are just weird. We have seen the rise of this type of game – starting with Anna Anthropy‘s Dys4ia and more recently with Mattie Brice’s Mainichi.
Making games as a response to homophobia and all the -isms (sexism, racism etc.) was also Colleen Macklin‘s suggestion, albeit on a much larger scale. Macklin, a game designer instructor at the New School at Parsons, takes a step back from sharing personal experiences and discusses ways that Game Devs can change the industry en masse.
“We’re designers! We’re talking about system issues. Instead of saying how hard it is to create diversity, let’s create prototypes of a welcoming and diversified field. Let’s playtest them”
Lack of gender diversity seems to be an inherent problem in STEM fields, and when you think about it, those fields could also be the most useful in helping to solve the problem. Macklin’s point here is brilliant. Most Game Developers spend their time on creating new worlds, characters, and prototypes.
What if they put their collective minds together to prototype a field of welcoming and diversity? While a welcoming and diversified field will look different to every individual, with people working together there’s at least the possibility of creating something that’s better (though far from perfect). While I’m not usually on board for gamification – the gamification of diversity and the video game industry may be exactly what we need to implement change on a systemic level.
Whether Macklin’s suggestion is viable or not, it’s clear that the disparate efforts people in the industry have had some impact already – for instance the #1ReasonToBe panel got upgraded to a larger room this year. Joking aside it’s often hard to measure the slowly changing environment of the games industry. While it’s still a rough place out there for many, Leigh Alexander commented that it’s definitely a different place from where she first started.
“At least now I can admit my humanity to a packed room full of game developers, and nobody is going to tell me to pipe down or get back in the kitchen anymore. Try it, I fucking dare you! We are not alone here.”
I can’t imagine how validating it would be to issue that statement to a crowd of people I knew wouldn’t attempt to troll me. You couldn’t pay me enough money to say that on the internet. The fact that Leigh Alexander was able to make that statement, and that she offered it to a room full of allies truly shows how much the industry is changing, and how supportive many innovators, developers, and gaming enthusiasts can be.
Kiai closed out the panel with this statement:
There are so many of you here, right now — artists, critics, academics — who stand for the things I stand for. It’s like I was waiting for you all this time, and now you’ve arrived. Now we’ve arrived.
Belonging is hard. But maybe it doesn’t have to be.
Amen to that, and a round of applause to all the people (panelists and otherwise) that continue to make belonging an easier task. May panels like this one day cease to exist (for lack of need).
IF you haven’t noticed by now, I appreciate nicely armored ladies, and diverse depictions of women in gaming. This is unfortunate for me, because the majority of the time I end up with women in little clothing that I can’t even play. The solution? The Lady Knight simulator . Tumblr user dogbomber (a.k.a Sean Ng) created a Lady Knight Simulator to encourage other illustrators on Tumblr to draw some epic Lady Knights.
The simulator is composed of 5 categories (Weapon, Build, Personality, Culture, Personality) and has already generated my new favorite heroine ever. Meet Thorina:
Needless to say, I think I’m in love.Here’s another one to show how diverse these creations can end up being:
What I love about both images above is how the addition of the “personality’ category really fleshes out each character. Thorina, the bulky, tiger-loving, Russian is one happy lady. From the picture alone it feels like she takes pride in herself, and her ability to balance a tiger on her mace. Her smile and posture allow her to differentiate herself from the gruff armored ladies we might typically encounter.
Similarly, the Scary Aztec Spider Lady’s evil smirk pulls her out of the “Sexy half-nude armored lady” category. She may in fact be sexy and half-nude, but her face adds that three dimensional aspect that promotes her from two-dimensional sexy candy to three-dimensional character.
While dogbomber wasn’t going for a political statement with his generator (he just likes Lady Knights) it’s clear that these images can have further implications. With just five different categories, there is an endless amount of combinations to try, each Lady Knight different from the next. This could be an excellent tool for Game Developers to create complex, non-stereotypical, potentially queer characters. (If you check out dogbomber’s gallery of Lady Knights (or search the #Lady Knight tag on Tumblr) you’re guaranteed to see a slew of delightfully diverse Lady Knights that aren’t derived from stereotypes.)
One piece of advice coming out from GDC, was to turn stereotypes on their heads. What this Lady Knight simulator teaches us is that we don’t even have to deal with stereotypes in the first place. Instead, we can create new, never-before-heard-of characters by simply picking 5 traits off a list.
If enough people jumped on board, we could even make new stereotypes, based on inclusivity and diversity. What if this above plump Bunny Knight became the stereotype? That would be awesome. I would love to play as this adorable bunny knight. She sure beats the heck out of Bunny Lady (Can’t remember her real name) from Final Fantasy XII.
I’m married, and my husband complains that I don’t talk about him enough online. So here’s proof of his existence:
I don’t have bangs anymore. Zooey Deschanel may have ruined them forever. Since I have been living with my husband for 3-4 years (I can’t remember exactly…we had to have the wedding the day after my birthday so I could get our anniversary straight) we’ve had occasional problems having two gamers in the house.
You’d think we would be living the dream. Every gamer secretly wants their significant other to be game friendly. No one else will understand why you’re frantically yelling “STFU NOOB” at the computer screen when Sona steals your kill in League of Legends. Non-gaming partners may eventually come to understand that leaving you alone while you’re on the computer/console is a good idea, but they’ll never quite be able to share your joys and frustrations.
It’s true that playing Halo, League of Legends, Little Big Planet, or ModNation Racers with a partner is fantastic. You always have a player two on standby, and they typically don’t mind if you spend your entire weekend re-play the Mass Effect triology. Although I’ve had to learn that’s not allowed on date weekends, or trips when I’m supposed to be socializing with my in-laws.
So, in-laws aside there are some key problems that hubby and I have had over the years. While some of these have improved with money, throwing money at things is rarely a long-term solution for us (because we’re poor).
1.) Not enough bandwidth a.k.a STOP WATCHING NETFLIX WHILE I’M PLAYING
Look, when you have two people trying to play League of Legends and watch Netflix simultaneously…things aren’t going to go well. We’ve moved fairly often in the past few years and this problem wanes and waxes with our internet company. Currently we have ATT U-Verse (do not recommend) and some days it can barely handle Netflix by itself.
This means that we can’t always enjoy using the internet at the same time. Sometimes *gasp* we have to share if we both want to do things that will eat our internet. So maybe I pull out my Firely DVDs and lust after Captain Reynolds for an hour or two while hubby plays and later we switch and he watches his Lost blu-ray collection. This isn’t always ideal. Sometimes I might not have a game, or DVD I want to watch. Sometimes I just want to binge-watch Orange is the New Black or hop on my League of Legends smurf account and squash noobs.
Again, this doesn’t happen too often, but it’s definitely a frustration you can look forward to when living with another person.
2.) Epic battles for the Television
When husband and I first moved in together, we only owned one television. It was a nice television, one husband bought with some extra loan money, but all those inches couldn’t make up for the fact that we only had one.
I don’t want to watch husband play Dark Souls or BioShock all day long. BioShock creeped me out so badly the first time I watched him play that it received a perma ban from our house during hours I was at home. Conversely, husband doesn’t want to watch me play Kingdom Hearts or Dragon Age all day. I really can’t imagine why.
This means, yet again, we’ve had to learn how to share. Before we had the same work schedules, this was much easier. Our shifts never quite lined up so we each had time to spend at home by ourselves gorging on gaming. Now that we have big kid jobs this has become more problematic. Luckily, this was a problem we could throw money at. Our set up now looks something like this:
If you don’t have the money for an extra TV, you too will have to share.
3.) Only One Game. Also Spoilers.
The problem with two gamers in the house is that on occasion – not too often because husband and I don’t like the same games – we are both interested in the same game. And since not enough games have co-op campaigns (or at least not enough games that I would want to play that way) we have to decide which of us gets to play first.
If we only have one disc of a game (like Borderlands 2) I usually take the backseat, because I have more time on my hands than he does. We also get lucky when things are free on Playstation Plus . Sometimes this problem has an added symptom of spoilers.
I just started playing Tomb Raider when it recently became free for Playstation Plus members. What I love about the game so far is the cinematic experience that makes me feel like I’m right there with Lara. When my husband started playing it and passed my save point, things got tense. I can’t be in the same room as he plays the game because I don’t want my experience ruined.
We don’t have a good solution for this problem yet other than sticking my fingers in my ears, putting on blinders, and screaming “I CAN’T HEAR YOU”. It’s a work in progress, just like most long-term relationships.
So for all you gamers out there looking to monogamously commit yourself, choose someone without internet needs that doesn’t mind when you spend long swaths of time ignoring them for video games. Or you know, grow some balls/ovaries and learn how to share.
Over the next few days I’m going to highlight some of the amazing panels that talked about gender, race, sexuality and inclusion at GDC 2014!
This year at GDC, there entire track devoted to advocacy in gaming. The Advocacy Track presentations focused specifically on gender, disabled gaming, minority representation and other issues in the games industry. Random Panels included:
- The Pixelles Method: How to Increase Game Dev Diversity
- Attracting and Hiring Women in Games
- Sexism in the Game Industry
- How To Be a Better Ally
- Mob Rules: The Destructive Power of Opinion and Online Community
One of the better panels was “How to Subversively Queer Your Work”. With panelists including Mattie Brice, Todd Harper, Zoe Quinn and Samantah Allen, I may have sacrificed my first born to attend that panel. Tl; DR: Amazing Industry Proffesionals give you free ideas for how to be inclusive.
For those of you wondering what the point of adding queerness into gaming is, Todd Harper makes the most eloquent speech ever:
“The point is that empathy is the ability to see what matters to other people. It’s the ability to see what matters to someone who isn’t you. Empathy is a muscle, and like any muscle you have to flex and use it over and over until it becomes strong. And the important thing about that is that empathy is the muscle we use to lift everybody up.
More importantly, if you don’t want [to make inclusive games], if you feel like you shouldn’t have to care, then leave. We don’t need you. Increasingly. We don’t need you.” – Todd Harper
While I like that idea that the inclusive community has grown large enough that is doesn’t need non-inclusive gamers and developers for sustenance, this model of separation is not ideal. If we seclude ourselves into this amazing, vibrant queer game community then there’s nobody left to reach out and attempt to educate and change mainstream games. Don’t get me wrong – trying to change mainstream gaming is exhausting, and even sometimes dangerous. I still think that it is an important goal – so we all become stronger (empathy goes both ways).
Other key solutions for queering games included making blank (genderless) characters. Zoe Quinn points out
“If you just leave it blank, people still fill it in with a default.” – Zoe Quinn
Since every person’s default is different, this allows each player to enjoy a unique , subtely inclusive experience as long as their assumptions and stereotypes don’t get in the way. My own heteronormativity definitely got in the way when I played Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest. I assumed the character was male because there was a girlfriend involved, instead using my own gender as default.
A more radical solution came from Todd Harper, who suggested to take stereotypical characters and turn them on their heads.
“Did you tragically kill of a man’s wife to motivate his quest to save his daughter? … Go back and give him a husband and a kid. Keep them alive. Let him fight to protect them and keep them safe.” – Todd Harper
The idea to drop stereotypes from game narratives was echoed by the
While the pitfall of that solution might be that each game only has one queer character, Samantha Allen advocated that it would be a good start.
“Even if you [include that one character] and someone else at developer X does that, then someone else at developer Y does that. Eventually you have an entire community of queer characters that people can identify with in our medium. And I think that would be really important.” – Samantha Allen
The other encouraging aspect of this panel is that the members of it have created famous/infamous inclusive games. They’re not just putting these ideas out of their asses, these are ideas they’ve implemented and thought about for years – and have done so successfully (by my standards – which might be questionable). This panel kept on throwing ideas out there, and I’m sure each panelist would be elated to see those ideas snatched up and put to practice. A rare occasion where “borrowing” an idea is perfectly legal and encouraged!
Any ideas of your on for how to queer gaming? Think these ideas are stupid and will never work? Let me know in the commments!
I’ve been writing about Pokemon quite a bit for the last few days. It’s been on my mind with the release of Pokemon Indigo League on Netflix and the infamous Twitch Plays Pokemon. It’s an easy topic for me to get stuck on considering I own one Game Boy Colors, one Game Boy Advance, two DS’s, two 3DS’s and a copy of every Pokemon game created.
I primarily have all of this swag so I would be able to obtain all the Pokemon in existence without ever having to trade with anybody except myself. I’m not a particularly social critter and before you could trade online I didn’t know any other college aged kids that still played Pokemon. That said, there’s no point in keeping this many games and accessories around if you’re not going to play them. This begs the question: how do you know when you should restart your Pokemon game?
For those of you who play Pokemon competitively, I don’t have answers for you. The way you level grind and play Pokemon boggles my mind and I bow down to your patience and knowledge. For the rest of us who just play for fun, or to “collect ’em all” there comes a point when you’ve run out of things to do. How do you decide when it’s time to say goodbye to the game you’ve been playing and start a new save file?
Reasons to Restart the Game:
- If you’ve become the Pokemon Champion. If you’re only goal was to beat the Elite 4, then it shouldn’t be too hard to say goodbye to the Pokemon you’ve been training and the trainer you’ve created and simply re-start the game. However, you should know that if this is your only motivation I am judging you hard core right now. There are so many things to do after you’ve beat the Elite 4 that deciding to quit right then is hogwash. At least wait until you’re 100% certain you’ve completed the main story.
- You’ve completed the main story. This is pretty self-explanatory. If you’ve completed the main story line for a Pokemon game then there’s not much left for you do to except train and try to fill your PokeDex. While many people do enjoy those and spend many hours on them, it is understandable if you want to restart your game to enjoy the story a second time. I’m not judging you…too much.
- You’ve completed the main story and filled your PokeDex. No matter what version of Pokemon you’re playing, filling a PokeDex is a huge accomplishment. Maybe you only caught the original 151, or maybe you’ve caught all 718 of the currently revealed Pokemon, either way huge props to you. That said, If you’ve managed to fill your PokeDex you’ve also probably managed to play all of the game that you want to. While it hurts my soul a bit to see a full PokeDex erased, you might get more joy out of the game by re-starting and going on an all new adventure.
- You own both version of a given generation and you’re using one to farm Pokemon. I own both Pokemon Heartgold and Soulsilver. I use one of the cartridges to store all of my awesome Pokemon and I use the other to get the version exclusives and starters. To get all the starters for a generation, it’s necessary to restart the game at least once and chances are you won’t grow very attached to the version you use for those purposes.
- You nickname your Pokemon horrible things and treat them as badly as the game will let you. You are clearly a terrible person who doesn’t understand the point of the game and should restart yours to erase the crimes against Pokemon you have committed. You should also probably give the game to someone who will actually like it and treat their Pokemon nicely.
Now, when will Pokemon games finally allow more than one save per game so we don’t even have to consider this?